Tuning specificities to aliphatic odorants in mouse olfactory receptor neurons and their local distribution

J Neurophysiol. 1994 Dec;72(6):2980-9. doi: 10.1152/jn.1994.72.6.2980.


1. Odor responses to two homologous series of n-fatty acids (nFA) and n-aliphatic alcohols (nAA) with a straight chain of three to nine carbons were examined by measuring odor-induced [Ca2+]i increase in mouse olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) isolated by the tissue-printing method. 2. One-third of the ORNs responsive to nFA and/or nAA were alternately sensitive to either type of odorant. Their sensitivities were usually near maximal for one or two odorants and decreased with differences in the carbon chain length from the tuned odorants. 3. Two-thirds of the ORNs responsive to nFA and/or nAA were sensitive to both types of odorants. Most of them were also tuned to one or two odorants in each series with similar carbon chain lengths and showed a decrease of sensitivity with increasing stereochemical discrepancy, similar to nFA/nAA discriminating ORNs. 4. In 10 of 20 non-nFA/nAA discriminating ORNs, the sensitivity to nFA was > 10 times greater than to nAA, and 80% of them were localized in a central region of olfactory epithelium on the septum wall where ORNs preferentially project to the dorsomedial or centromedial regions of the olfactory bulb. In addition, the sensitivity to three series of n-aliphatic odorants with an added amino group was examined. Sensitivity became higher as the electronegativity of the functional groups increased, suggesting that a hydrogen bond might partly mediate affinity in one type of non-nFA/nAA discriminating ORNs. 5. The diversity in odorant tuning specificity and sensitivity of the individual ORNs indicated that their receptor sites were finely tuned to the stereochemical structures of numerous odorants by changes in the three-dimensional size and intermolecular positions of the hydrophobic domains for hydrophobic bond, as well as the proton-acceptor or donor for the hydrogen bond and the electrical charge for the ionic bond. 6. The subpopulation of ORNs tuned to an individual odorant increased as the length of carbon chain of the odorant increased from three to nine. This tendency was more marked for nFA than for nAA in the case of non-nFA/nAA discriminating ORNs. 7. Data obtained by the in vitro approach using the tissue-printing method suggested that three or more subtypes of ORNs, which were similar in some cases and significantly different in other cases, were located within close proximity to one another.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Discrimination, Psychological / drug effects
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Fura-2
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Mice
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Mucosa / innervation
  • Potassium / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Receptors, Odorant
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Fura-2